The big question: “When should my child go to the dentist?”
One of the most common questions that a dentist encounters from new parents is “When should my child’s first visit to the dentist be?”
The answer to this question is “the earlier the better”. Ideally a child should have their first dental visit when the first baby tooth appears in their mouth and no later than the child’s first birthday even if no teeth are present. The absence of baby teeth in the mouth at one year old can be a red flag for developmental problems.
While many new parents are understandably concerned about their children developing dental decay, dentists are also able to discuss how to care for an infant’s or toddler’s mouth more broadly, including:
- The proper use of fluoride and other remineralizing agents
- Oral hygiene techniques
- Oral habits, including finger and thumb sucking which can have a significant impact on the oro-facial growth and development of a child
- Ways to prevent accidents that could damage the face and teeth
- Teething and milestones of development
- The link between nutrition, oral health and general health
How to prepare for the first visit
Congratulations, you’ve gone ahead and booked an appointment for your child’s first dental visit. What can you do to prepare your child for their first visit to the dental office? There are some useful strategies to prepare your child for the new noises, smells, equipment, instruments and a stranger telling him or her to “open wide”:
- Parents and siblings are powerful role models. Before their first dental visit, bring your child with you for your next check-up to allow them to see you having your teeth examined and cleaned. If your child has siblings who have had good dental experiences, it is also useful to allow your child to see them having their teeth examined and cleaned.
- Young children learn by playing. Role playing is a wonderful tool for teaching young children about the dentist, so role play a dental visit by taking turns being the dentist and the patient with your child. Examine each other’s teeth with a mirror or use your fingers to count each other’s teeth so that your child will be familiar with the feel of a dentist examination.
- Don’t rush. Allow plenty of time so that the dental visit isn’t rushed. When scheduling dental appointments for your child it is usually better to make them first thing in the morning or after their afternoon nap to ensure that your child is well-rested before the visit so that he or she feels relaxed and comfortable.
What to do after the first visit
Following your child’s initial visit, your dentist will recommend follow-up oral health visits for your child. These have historically been at six monthly intervals, however new evidence suggests that follow-up dental visits should be based on the individual needs of your child and may be more or less frequent depending on your child’s specific needs and risks.One of the key benefits in children having their first dental visit before the age of one is that at this age they are generally too young to be nervous. There is evidence to suggest that where a child is older than one at their first dental visit, they are likely to experience some anxiety at the time of the first visit.